Comparing Battleborn and Overwatch for MMO Players

Battleborn and Overwatch are different games altogether, but their cartoony style, first-person point-of-view, and multiplayer emphasis make them keep butting heads. It’s not even a superficial bout, as Battleborn has even taken aim at Overwatch’s release date with its own announcement for May 24. Although neither one may be an MMO, there are reasons MMO players may be eyeing these two.

Genre Influence

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Let’s get down to the basics first. I’ve heard both games have been compared to MOBAs but this is fundamentally incorrect, even if Battleborn does have its MOBA moments. As others have noted, Overwatch bears a strong resemblance to Team Fortress 2, but it drops all forms of progression in favor of cosmetic unlocks. While it has similarities to other FPS games (Titanfall’s pilot play especially), it boils down to a multiplayer appetizer of roughly ten-minute matches of Pixar-esque family-friendly fun.

This is not Battleborn. Battleborn is more inline with Gearbox’s other games, with an off-beat, expletive filled story mode being front and center. You go into a narrative instance, go forward, kill some stuff, defend some thing, save some people, and hear how characters are moved from Plot A to Plot B. It’s okay alone, but lots more fun with friends, and hey! You get shiny stuff to take into battle, along with overall levels, character levels, and currency for a store that gives you more shiny stuff. Yes, the currency can be won in various PvP modes that resemble standard base capping, hallway-like MOBA combat, and a MOBA-like mode that has minions still marching towards their death but at a specific sacrificial location. However, the story mode feels more inspired, and that’s pretty important because these are games about character.

Characters and World

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Both games have heroes, both games have story-driven banter, but honestly, aside from that, they couldn’t be more different.

Overwatch is Blizzard does The Incredibles. There’s a diverse cast, it’s family friendly while remaining fun(ny), and no one feels like they’re truly in danger of permanent death. The cinematics and comics are top notch, but the thing is, they’re outside the game. We get a few quips in game, but Blizzard honestly feels like they’ve given up on integrating story with game mechanics. Maybe at heart they want to be a movie company, but as things stand, they’re making games that are fun enough to play but make little to no sense when compared to the stories they have others craft about their game. That feels weird. It’s like needing to watch the Mario Brothers movie to understand Mario, and then trying to go back to a game that barely hints that the two are the same.

Battleborn is the other side of that coin, with its rough-and-tumble group of space misfits trying to save the last star in the universe. Frankly, they’ve got some ugly art for their cinematics, and at least on my computer, the graphics aren’t quite as good. The story’s a little over the top, but at least we know why we’re fighting. The prophecy that this last star is heralding the end of days unless warriors can hone their skills against each other before fighting an ultimate evil adds in a reason for PvP. Having a lore reason that explains “death” (characters are teleported away when their vitals are too low, but the hiring organization will only pay for so much) really adds to the immersion for me. Since firing at a team mate shows a shield, I’m sure there’s some explanation for no friendly fire too.

These may sound like small touches, but it makes Battleborn feel more like a gamer’s game, especially when the start of a mission shows our avatars as TV characters with our player names as the actors. It’s tongue and cheek humor like that which makes not only the story flow but adds weight to character quips, such as when two characters usually aligned with one another shout that the other has betrayed you when they’re on the opposing team. This is how game stories should be! Use the medium and push it forward. I understand cross-media appeal, but… Tetris movie. Blizzard, don’t let this happen to your games!

Play Styles

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While Battleborn may have characters that just seem to mesh better in their worlds, they sadly don’t offer the breadth that Overwatch does. That’s not a jab at appearance diversity but instead game mechanics. For example, lots of characters have a push back via their melee attack, their E key is a ground AoE attack, Q is a dash, etc. However, since Battleborn has an actual single player mode with PvE challenges like bosses, puzzles, and death traps, players have opportunities to learn how these mechanics can be used elsewhere (i.e. using jump + dash to cross big gaps). Having a similar pool of abilities but opportunities to use them creatively before jumping into PvP makes all games a lot better.

What’s really nice is how Battleborn has short games and long games. Whatever you have time for you can make some progress, even if you’re bad, as all the characters have dual unlock methods: you either beat a kind of challenge (such as clear an episode or get X amount of wins as Y faction) or get to the right player level.

This is key because, well, Overwatch doesn’t have any real progression beyond personal skill, something a lot of players may not focus on as they continually charge forth to die without being given a more structured objective that PvE can offer. At first, this lack of stat progression feels odd, though I’m also old enough to remember when this was the norm. Once I started to factor in how my skills from other, similar games (wall running from Titanfall, jetpack management from Tribes) lent themselves to Overwatch and vice versa, I was fine with just the cosmetic rewards. On some level, I think I prefer that. Gaining stats is more “meaty” in some ways, but I also know that it’s a dangerous path to tread.

Gameplay

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Let’s be up front: neither game is really offering something outstandingly new. Battleborn feels like a shooter even when it’s doing it in a MOBA-esque way (though I must admit to preferring this over SMITE, and I’m someone who quite enjoys mythology!). Overwatch feels like someone skimmed the top off a soup made of the most recent shooters plus Team Fortress 2. That being said, they both have their own unique points.

Battleborn’s combination of modes while aiming for the same crowd as Overwatch actually makes more sense to me, as I feel Blizzard fans are much more hard wired to win loot. I suppose Diablo scratches that itch a bit, but the perspective turns off some fans (like myself). It’s something I know Gearbox has been doing for awhile, but I don’t experience this kind of gameplay for shooters very often. However, most of the battlemodes feel bland. Half end up feeling like hallways at the moment, with a few nooks and tunnels the other side doesn’t always remember (but they rarely forget).

Overwatch, while possessing the superior character mechanics, has largely the same gameplay modes as TF2. There are weekly hero challenges with different themes (everyone as the same hero one week, randomly assigned heroes the next), and those are certainly a fresh air comparable to Hearthstone’s ever popular Tavern Brawl with its experimental gameplay, but that’s about it. That isn’t to say Overwatch isn’t fun, but it feels very familiar, and unless you’re brand new to the genre, the difficulty is mostly in adapting your skills from (largely) more difficult games to work in a smaller box, often with players who are just discovering these mechanics and gameplay for the first time.

Both games claim they have more options coming in the future, but that remains to be seen.

Community

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I don’t often say this, but in some ways the Overwatch community may be friendlier. Heck, during open beta, people granted a commendation to their enemy 72 million times! While I had one group of high levels in Battleborn surrender to a group of low levels right before they won the match, I often have people giving up before the match begins. When the queue isn’t nearly as instantaneous as Overwatch, this stands out more. What’s worse is that there’s no way to report people or vote to kick them from a game, so there have been matches where people simply sit AFK in the base and wait for the surrender vote to win, all while soaking up rewards the rest of us are trying to earn.

Part of the issue may be that Battleborn is region locked. That is, you are forced to play with random players on the PC version who share your download region, which can be changed via the settings option. While this could be useful for making local friends (something I’ve yet to do on Steam), it also means you aren’t being exposed to the whole of the community, just fractions. Though Overwatch has an option to play within your own local region the default is global, so new players don’t have to worry about logging in and thinking the game may be dead when it’s simply their local region.

That being said, these are shooters. Though the games aren’t nearly as bad as MOBA communities, there are times where players remind you why a lot of people avoid the genre, but the new blood has actually made the general toxicity much less severe than your average shooter.

Final Points

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Lets get down to a few major considerations. The first is value. To be clear, I ended up getting both games for free (Overwatch was a gift from someone who knew I was going to buy it for myself anyway, and Battleborn was a media copy I received after struggling with 2K’s PR reps due to a region lock issue). That being said, right now, I’d say Battleborn is the winner for most MMO fans. With a single-player mode, a story campaign (with multiple dialogue variations for replay value), and various PvP modes, it feels like an actual video game. I don’t know about $60, especially with several campaigns being added at a later date that will cost you some extra cash, but for now I’m mostly satisfied.

Blizzard’s $40+ game with no story mode what-so-ever, no progression, and mechanics/gameplay that’s readily accessible for free, while interesting, gives this feeling of being kind of an appetizer. This can be fine for people like me with busy schedules often limiting me to gaming spurts of under 30 minutes. Like most Blizzard games, they’ll probably introduce something  unique later on, but you’re going to need to wait for that. Those with more time per session, however, may want something heftier.

If you’re looking to socialize, however, Overwatch may be better for now. At least on PC Battleborn, like other 2K produced games, queues you with people from the same Steam download region, not a global pool, so you’re seeing only a fraction of the player base while you’re waiting in line. Overwatch also has Blizzard’s army of fans in various other games, and if your friends are like mine, they’re probably playing a Blizzard game half of the time anyway. If you pop into Overwatch and they have it, they’ll come in and join you pretty quick. Steam’s big, but it’s a market place with chat, while Battle.net is Blizzard’s digital neighborhood arcade.

If you’re looking for something more akin to an MMO, especially if you’re a PvE player, Battleborn is practically the only choice here. I haven’t been glued to an MMO in awhile, but in smaller games like Battleborn and the Monster Hunter series, it somehow feels refreshing to boil a theme-park MMO down to its essence of running for loot. You can play against AI in Overwatch, but it’s not nearly as satisfying as adventuring across a dying solar system in a universe ready to end. I love Overwatch’s out-of-game story, but the lack of a campaign is a missed opportunity Blizzard will hopefully rectify later. Even if it’s paid DLC, I’d love to see their lore get proper game treatment.

However, if you’re done with chasing stats, Overwatch is the clear winner. The skills you’ve mastered around the internet are put into an arena where they mix and mash well in a more mainstream environment. You may not get the Gun of Boss Booms, but you can find something in black for nearly every character you want, and really, that’s all some of us want anyway.

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